Tiger Woods Hunts for Another Masters, a Decade After Crash

ImageTiger Woods Hunts for Another Masters, a Decade After Crash
Fred Couples, left, and Tiger Woods walking off the 18th green after their practice round at Augusta National on Monday.CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The 10th anniversary of the Thanksgiving night car crash that changed the course of golf history is months away. But as a smiling Tiger Woods exited the Augusta National Golf Club clubhouse on Tuesday to cheers and applause, it was not too soon to consider his renaissance since the fall from grace that began when his then wife chased her philandering husband from their home and he drove his S.U.V. into a neighbor’s tree.

It also might be an occasion to observe how cultural status can be recouped with demonstrated, untiring perseverance. Woods kept showing up. There is power, too, in being a wildly popular sports figure transformed into an underdog who struck rock bottom: Two years ago, he was charged with driving under the influence as he sat asleep in a painkiller haze at the wheel of his car with the motor running. He later pleaded guilty to reckless driving.

Whatever the lens to view Woods’s current fate, it helps to revisit a scene in 2010 at Woods’s first competitive appearance after five months of blaring tabloid headlines about extramarital affairs that forever besmirched his legacy. The scene was similar to Tuesday’s, with Woods emerging from the Augusta National clubhouse for the 30-yard walk to the first tee, where he began a practice round on the eve of the Masters tournament.

But in 2010, a stone-faced Woods was met not with shouts and clapping but with an eerie stillness. Only a few hundred spectators had gathered for his 8 a.m. tee time, and they noiselessly parted without comment to permit him access to the golf course.

No four-time Masters champion had ever been treated with such indifference at Augusta National, nor will one likely be again. The pretournament conjecture was that Woods would be a target of heckling and snide comments. Instead, he received the silent treatment.

Perhaps Woods believed the famous serenity of Augusta National’s pristine grounds could bring some tranquillity to his then rancorous life, but he appeared only nervous and uneasy.

ImageTiger Woods Hunts for Another Masters, a Decade After Crash
Woods during his Tuesday practice round.CreditMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

His opening tee shot rocketed into the woods left of the first fairway, and he marched off in haste after the uncommonly ugly outcome.

Woods had reason for feeling especially anxious. A glut of security officers flanked him on every step, including armed sheriffs, unarmed guards and plainclothes police officers. The whirling of television news helicopters circling overhead provided a constant noisy soundtrack to his presence.

Worse, a day earlier, Billy Payne, then the Augusta National chairman, had delivered a harsh rebuke, saying Woods did not live up to role model expectations and had “disappointed all of us, and more important, our kids and our grandkids.”

All in all, not a great day for the world’s top-ranked golfer, who had won 14 major golf championships and was still expected to vault past the record, Jack Nicklaus’s 18.

But the Augusta National scene on Tuesday found Woods humbled and changed in ways unimaginable from the 2010 Masters. Yes, he is still chasing a 15th major championship, but tellingly, he seems less frantic about that pursuit than ever. Asked if he would have expected such a lengthy major drought, Woods calmly answered, “Yeah, I would say that I wouldn’t have foreseen that, for sure.”

He thought he would win more, he said, adding, “But unfortunately, I just didn’t do it.”

Repeatedly, he acknowledged a new — or is it rediscovered? — embrace of the sport’s fans. He talked about the surging gallery that enveloped him on the concluding hole of last year’s Tour Championship, when he won his first PGA Tour event in five years, a triumph that seemed to eclipse the travail of four back operations and myriad off-course embarrassments.

“I had chills,” he said of that gallery on 18 seven months ago.

It was his 80th tour title, and yet Woods said of that victory, “I didn’t know if I could ever get there again, and lo and behold, I got there again.”

Meaningfully, Woods also freely revealed his vulnerability, something that 10 years ago happened about as often as he six-putted a green.

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Tiger Woods teeing off at the first hole of his practice round on Wednesday.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Queried about the reliability of his putting, Woods insisted he was still a strong putter, but one with a problem.

“The hardest part is I just can’t practice like I used to,” he said. “My back gets sore. I just can’t log in the time that I used to, and that goes with every part of my game.”

The invincible Tiger Woods was not only admitting to a weakness, he was smiling about it.

“It was a little bit easier when I could work on everything,” he said with a grin. “But that’s no longer the case. You know, I just can’t do all the things all the time anymore.”

Woods, now ranked 12th in the world, maintains a belief in his chances this week. He knows the golf course better than any other top golfer in the field. He is convinced of the mental fortitude provided by the momentum he gained last season when he held a final-round lead at the British Open, contended late in the P.G.A. Championship and won the final event of the tour calendar. This season, in five events, he has had four top-20 finishes.

Moreover, Woods, credibly and palpably, is no longer haunted by the most inglorious chapter of his past. He’s O.K. with looking backward. He knows he made a lot of mistakes.

This week, he announced that at the 2019 Masters he would once again wear the collarless mock neck pullover he made famous in his prime. He will don a version of it in all four rounds, he said. That’s what he wore in 2005, the last time he won the Masters.

“I thought it was a pretty neat look back in the day,” he said on Tuesday with a laugh.

All these years later, there was little left to hide.

“I was probably in a little better shape back in those days,” he said. “But I won events wearing the mock. I’ve always enjoyed wearing them, and you’ll see it on Thursday.”

A version of this article appears in print on

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with the headline:

The Crash, the Fall and the Road Back

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